Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Jeff Bezos Vs The New York Times

I have considered throwing my two cents into the maelstrom of outrage generated by the now notorious New York Times expose detailing the working conditions at Amazon.com. It is reported that their executives and white collar professionals, are driven to the limits of human endurance, but really, why is anybody surprised?

There have always been “ulcer” companies, like Amazon. They pay their professionals top dollar, but they expect them to strap on a single action Colt when they put on their pants in the morning and still be ready for a gun fight sixteen hours later after consuming four shots of whiskey at the Long Branch Saloon. Every year, General Electric fires the lowest performing 10% at all levels of their company. The highest performing 20% receive outrageous bonuses. All the survivors receive a salary that is well over industry standards. They all know what they signed up for. If you decide you are not cut out for such a life, the door is always open. No one is stopping you from walking out.

EDS was such a company. When I graduated from engineering school I was interviewed by a representative of Ross Perot’s creation. The company philosophy at EDS was once described as a mix of fundamentalist Christianity and the fanatical discipline of the U.S. Marine Corp. The woman from EDS really liked me, but they were very honest about what they expected. Since I was a Christian, I said no.

I expect everyone who walked in the front door at Amazon believed they could make it. Many of them didn’t, but I expect they can’t say they weren’t warned. I know a man who once interviewed for a marketing management position at Amazon many years ago when they were a much smaller company. During the interview, Jeff Bezos himself, told this man that if he ever saw him leaving his office at 5:00 PM, it better be for a lunch break. Since this man is a Christian (and not a lunatic) he said no.

However, if you are one of the few, the proud, the fanatical; working for Jeff Bezos will make you a millionaire many times over. I also expect that anyone who was good enough to make the cut at Amazon and survive for even six months as a glorified temp is good enough to pick up another job right quick. Those kinds of pyramids get really small at the top.

Ultimately, union or non-union, all employees are glorified temps. Whether gold collar professionals with salaries in the top quintile or human robots performing mindless tasks for minimum wage, you will only have a job as long as it is in the interest of your employer to provide you with a job. Not even the Government can provide lifetime job security, as many in NAVSEA (my laboratory’s parent organization) will attest.

In nine years I was employed by two American factories. During this time I worked for seven different plant managers. They had a shorter life expectancy than football coaches in the NFL. I saw way too many layoffs. Now both of those plants are gone, victims of environmental regulation and foreign competition. Since I didn’t want to live the rest of my life watching the death of American industry, I devised a plan to get a job in a R&D lab. Once I earned my BSME from the University of South Carolina, I choose to work for the Government, both because they were hiring during the glory days of the Reagan buildup and because I was willing to exchange about 20% less in salary for roughly an equivalent increase in job security.

There are no guarantees in life, but stop and think a bit before you apply for that new job. If somebody is willing to pay you money, something is wrong somewhere. If it was all that wonderful, you would be paying him to get to do it. On the other hand, you will never achieve mastery in any profession working a forty hour week. That truth would also apply to investigative journalists working for the New York Time.

Now, Let’s be careful out there!

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